Sunday, May 08, 2011


To put it bluntly, the CAHSRA board has a history of being intentionally stupid.

As a case in point: in dismissing the Altamont route into the Bay Area, they cited environmental concerns, cost of construction, and NIMBY opposition in the Livermore/tri-valley area. Instead they prefer to run trains through central valley wetlands, and have stirred up a hornets nest with their proposal to build an expensive viaduct through Palo Alto.

The board's response to the recently proposal by peninsula representatives to begin quasi-HSR service with incremental improvements to the CalTrain infrastructure seems to show a willful misunderstanding (from an SF Gate article)

The authority board told engineers and planners Thursday not to study a phased-implementation plan, which would electrify the Caltrain tracks and use them as a quicker, lower-cost way to bring high-speed rail up the Peninsula to the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets in San Francisco.

No one has suggested that the trains stop at 4th and King. This seems to be an intentional misreading of the Eshoo/Simitian/Gordon proposal to begin HSR with using the existing CalTrain infrastructure--nobody has suggested that it shouldn't be extended, just that service can begin without ripping out existing tracks and building a new railway on top of them.

High speed rail is an important project that needs to be put in better hands. Perhaps people with actual experience in running passenger railways with perpetually inadequate budgets, and dealing with sometimes indifferent or hostile public opinion would be the most qualified; I suggest we draw veterans of CalTrain, Amtrak California, ACE, and Metrolink.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Train Robbery or Pragmatism?

Several of our local representatives, Anna Eshoo, Joe Semitian, and Rich Gordon have recently released a joint statement on High Speed Rail and CalTrain. The jist of it is that the CAHSRA should drop plans for building a viaduct through the peninsula, and use the CalTrain right of way as-is, with electrification (which would mean running at conventional train speeds).

There seem to be several points to all this:

  • They are representing their anti-viaduct NIMBY constituents.
  • Get HSR financial support for CalTrain's infrastructure.
  • Combine and improve existing commuter rail systems with true HSR in the Central Valley, to get much improved, if not true HSR service.

Certainly the second and third points appeal to me, if not the first.

I would really be quite happy if the state could string together some sort of system that could get us to LA in less time than driving, sometime in my lifetime, instead of doing nothing while it spins up plans to make the trip faster than flying, someday, maybe...

Anyway, I sneakily feel like if HSR trains began running in the corridor at reduced speed, the right of way could be incrementally upgraded, with grade crossings removed one-by-one with an overpass here and an underpass here, and speeds could be ramped up with careful attention to mitigating noise, and we could covertly get true HSR on the peninsula without ever stirring up a fuss.

The proposal has come under fire from Tracy assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, an author of the HSR bond issue, who characterizes it as a "train robbery" to siphon funds from a statewide project to a local one. I haven't seen this in mainstream media sources, but here it is in the Menlo Park Almanac and the Merced Star.

I don't think this is a very fair complaint since upgrades to the peninsula line were part of the advertised HSR project from the beginning. And presumably parallel improvements to Metrolink would be involved at the other end of the line.

I favor a compromise that means something actually gets done.